Grand Prix Final Preview & Golden Spin: This Week in Pairs

It’s hard to believe the Grand Prix Final is almost here! This year’s Grand Prix series seemed to go by in a flash. (Probably because I was always behind with my recaps! :-)) Anyhow, I thought I’d do a brief preview of the pairs going into the Final. Also, I’ve put together some notes on last week’s Golden Spin competition.

Grand Prix Final Preview

Last year, the big story going into the Grand Prix Final was Duhamel/Radford vs. Stolbova/Klimov. This year’s GP Final is different. D/R and S/K will again compete. However, several top pairs are missing from the event (Sui/Han, Volosozhar/Trankov, Savchenko/Massot), and the 5 pairs who were here last year and qualified again have had somewhat up-and-down seasons. This year’s event feels more open in terms of who could medal or win. Let’s take a look at where each pair stands heading in.

Duhamel/Radford

duhamel-radford

Where do they stand? Duhamel/Radford won their 2 GP events and are having a good season. However, so far, they don’t look quite as confident or dominant as last year. They’ve had some technical problems in their programs. And although they went for the throw quad Lutz at Autumn Classic this fall, they did not include it at their GP events and will not do it in Barcelona. They are still the favorites heading into this event, but look a bit vulnerable.

Key element/factor: Side-by-side triple Lutz. Despite having the quad, I think SBS 3Lz is still D/R’s key element, especially since they use it in both programs. Last year, the SBS 3Lz was so consistent for them, but this year they’ve struggled with it a bit. It’s placed early in both programs, and I think it sets the overall tone for them. If they land the Lutz well, especially in the short program, it should set them on course to win.

How will they do? I think they will win. After their euphoric victory in Barcelona last year, I am sure they’ll want to do well again this year. This is a special event for D/R. Plus, I think they’re both disappointed with their lackluster start to the season and are motivated to put out 2 strong programs at the GPF.

Kavaguti/Smirnov

 

Kavaguti-smirnov-4

Where do they stand? Yuko/Sasha had an outstanding start this year with their win at Cup of China. However, they fell short in the long program at Rostelecom and lost to Russian rivals Stolbova/Klimov, which seemingly again pushes them back to #3 in Russia (assuming V/T compete at Russian Nationals).

Key element/factor: Throw quad Salchow. Kavaguti/Smirnov are trying two throw quads in the LP, but have yet to cleanly land the throw quad loop. That means they really need the throw quad Salchow to work. The throws are placed right after each other in the LP—a gamble. If they have problems on both throws, as at Rostelecom, it disrupts the whole flow of the program (and probably their confidence as well). But if the throw 4S is landed, I think they can afford the (perhaps) inevitable mistake on the quad loop and still medal. (And this is all assuming they keep their SBS jumps consistent, which so far this season, they’ve surprisingly accomplished!)

How will they do? I think perhaps better than expected. Kavaguti/Smirnov have a history of performing badly at the GP Final, which works against them, plus they are generally rather inconsistent competitors. However, the fact is, their average scores on the Grand Prix this year are the highest among the pairs competing in Barcelona. So that’s a positive. And the judges like their programs–they’re getting good PCS. A lot of people are writing them off, but I think we may well see them on the podium, perhaps in silver position.

Stolbova/Klimov

stolbova-klimov

Where do they stand? Ksenia/Fedor had a very subpar performance at Skate America but rebounded strongly to win Rostelecom. Are they ready to win or medal in Barcelona? I’m not sure. In Moscow, they once again impressed with their excellent basic skating skills and high-quality partnering. However, somewhat lost in the hoopla over their win was the fact that they still struggled with some technical elements and were clearly not back in top form yet (although improving). Plus, that victory came on home territory, and it’s become apparent that Stolbova/Klimov are a team who tend to be at their best in front of a home audience. The question is, Can they match or improve that level in a more neutral environment?

Key element/factor: Side-by-side 3T/3T/2T combination. This is Ksenia/Fedor’s big new element, worth 9.90 points in base value. If it’s executed as well as we’ve seen them do jumps in the past, they could easily score over 11.00 with it. I think hitting this element would increase their confidence level exponentially.

How will they do? For their sake, I hope Ksenia/Fedor make the podium here. This competition is important for them. Last year’s GP Final was the turning point of their season—it was all downhill after they lost to D/R. They need to put that demon to rest with a strong showing in Barcelona.

Scimeca/Knierim

 

scimeca-knierim-2

Where do they stand? It’s been a successful and groundbreaking season for Alexa/Chris, winning their first GP medals and becoming the first American pair to qualify for the GP Final in many years. However, there is still much work to do, as their LP performances in particular have been inconsistent.

Key element/factor: Performance level. This season, Alexa/Chris are presenting their programs with a lot of energy and commitment (especially Alexa). Although some feel it goes over the top at times, the judges seem to like it, and their PCS are rising. In this field, against the other high-level pairs, it’s important they keep up that energy and really go for it. Their average PCS scores on the GP are higher than Yu/Jin’s and Seguin/Bilodeau’s, and they’ll need to maintain that if they want to finish in front of those teams. (Landing the SBS 3Ts would help, too. :-))

How will they do? I expect Alexa/Chris to have a strong showing. A medal is unlikely, but not impossible. The important thing is to put out 2 good programs and show how much they belong here. It’s been a long process for Alexa/Chris to get to this point; success didn’t come overnight. Knowing how much this opportunity means and how long they’ve worked for it, they’re going to want to put out their best. Nerves are still an issue with this team, but I hope and expect they will do well.

Yu/Jin

Yu-jin-3

Where do they stand? Yu/Jin have been one of the more consistent teams on the Grand Prix. With 2 GP medals, it’s been a successful season so far.

Key element/factor: Performance level. Yu/Jin are scoring very well technically this season. But their PCS isn’t quite keeping pace. I think whenever you’re repeating programs for a second season, you’re at risk of the performance level falling off, because the programs just don’t feel fresh. Yu/Jin’s skating has been lovely this season, but also a bit lacking in impact. I’d like to see them bring more intensity in Barcelona.

How will they do? I think they’ll do well. Their consistency is such a strong point for this team, especially when it comes to the SBS jumps. And they’ve shown twice already this season that they can survive a fall on the throw quad Salchow without the program falling apart. If any of the top 3 teams falter, I think Yu/Jin will be there.

Seguin/Bilodeau

Where do they stand? Julianne/Charlie had such an excellent showing at Skate America, especially considering it was their first Grand Prix. They were equally strong in the TEB short program before the cancellation. Making the Grand Prix Final in their first full senior season is a huge accomplishment (even if it happened in somewhat unusual fashion).

Key element/factor: Maintain their usual consistency. Unlike most pairs, Julianne/Charlie don’t seem to have a weak or “problem” element. Their lifts could use improvement but are not a real liability, either. At this event, they just need to keep on doing what they’ve been doing.

How will they do? I think they’ll put out good performances. However, their average PCS score does lag behind the other teams here, and that will probably keep them in the lower half of the standings.

Peng/Zhang

Where do they stand? Not where they want to be. It’s been a difficult season so far for Peng/Zhang. Last year, there was little question of them making the GPF—this year, it only happened because of a withdrawal and the odd circumstances around TEB. Peng/Zhang did win a medal at Rostelecom, but their performances weren’t great.

Key element/factor: Timing/comfort level. Peng/Zhang have looked off this season, like something is awry with their timing and coordination. There have been some odd mistakes, a lack of flow, and a certain awkwardness to their skating. How they do here will depend on their general comfort level at this stage–with each other, the programs, and the elements.

How will they do? With the season they’ve had, I don’t expect to see Peng/Zhang win a medal. But we can’t forget that this team has some amazing skills, a very interesting short program, and also a pretty big reputation with the judges. I don’t expect them to be on the podium, but I doubt they will finish in the last place they qualified in, either.

Golden Spin of Zagreb

The Challenger Series concluded last week with the last event, Golden Spin of Zagreb. The pairs competition at this event was quite strong—almost like a Grand Prix. No time this week for a full review, but I did want to mention some of the highlights from the competition.

golden-spin-results

Tarasova/Morozov won the competition on the strength of their “Warriors” short program, which was easily their best of the season so far. Their level 4 triple twist was beautiful, with incredible height, and their SBS 3Ts were well synchronized and very close together. They did a better job this time matching the driving, high-energy feel of the music and scored a season’s-best 73.06.

tarasova-morozov.jpg

Unfortunately, Tarasova/Morozov couldn’t sustain this standard in the LP. They again had several jump errors in their Chopin program, and the closing two lifts were also a bit slow/awkward. They finished behind the music, and their PCS marks dropped in the long program compared to the SP. They were 2nd LP/1st overall.

After a strong debut last year, Evgenia/Vladimir have, sadly, lost momentum this season. If Volosozhar/Trankov compete at Russian Nationals, Evgenia/Vladimir will be in for a fight just to make the Russian Euro/World team this year.

Astakhova/Rogonov also skated a nice short program to The Artist. They lost unison on the SBS 3S, but the program was jazzy and fun to watch. Kristina/Alexei followed up with a pretty good outing of their “puppet master” LP. There were a few errors, including a crash on the triple twist and Alexei falling on the SBS 3S. But they landed a very nice SBS 3T/2T/2T combo, and the throw 3Lz was good. This program is so involving and dramatic and beautifully choreographed that I find myself overlooking some of the errors and just enjoying the performance. I hope to see a more clean version of the program at Russian Nationals. Kristina/Alexei were 3rd LP/2nd overall.

And, speaking of clean programs … I want to make special note of the fact that Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea achieved a rare feat at Golden Spin: They delivered a completely clean long program, with no falls/stepouts/2-fts/pops on any jump elements. As far as I can tell (looking at notes/protocols), Tarah/Danny are only the 2nd pair this season to actually deliver a clean long program in a Grand Prix or senior B competition! (The only other pair to do so: Training mates Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan at Skate America.) Tarah/Danny were rewarded with 1st place in the LP/3rd overall, and I really enjoyed their lyrical, lovely performance to “Music of the Night.”

kayne-oshea

With a bronze medal here, a gold medal at U.S. International Classic, and a fine 4th-place showing at Rostelecom, I think Tarah/Danny have established themselves as favorites to claim one of the two spots on the U.S. team for Worlds. Of course, they’ll still have to lay it down at U.S. Nationals. But they’ve certainly done enough this season to make a strong case for the team, assuming a good showing at Nationals.

The other contenders here for the U.S. 4CC/World team were Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran. Marissa/Mervin once again skated a strong SP to place 3rd. However, they also once again had jump problems in their Journey LP and slid to 5th LP/overall. As disappointing as the jump errors are, at the same time I think Mervissa continue to improve in every other way. The speed, power, and depth of edge in their skating is terrific. And their lifts are getting so strong! The combination of Mervin’s easy turning movement with Marissa’s enviable core strength in holding spectacular air positions makes their lifts look very secure and impressive. I actually felt they were underscored in GOE on a lot of their elements here, and also in PCS. I will continue to wait semi-patiently and ever-hopefully for the jumps to improve!

In terms of where they stand now …. I think Marissa/Mervin are going to have to fight very hard and have the performance of their career (so far) at U.S. Nationals to make the U.S. World team. It could definitely happen—they have the talent, no question. It just needs to come together.

The third U.S. team in this event was Caitlin Fields/Ernie Utah Stephens, making their senior international debut. Their short program to Hugues Le Bars’ Piano et Voix Rhythmiques was original and interesting, with a great step sequence. Unfortunately, Caitlin/Ernie did have some technical problems in both programs. But it was great seeing them back on the ice, and hopefully they will be stronger at U.S. Nationals.

Zabijako/Enbert, the new team from Russia, also competed here and did about the same as at Rostelecom Cup. They placed 4th overall. This team is elegant and technically competent, but their programs really do not make any impression at all. I hope they get better material next year.

Wrap-up

Well, that’s it for this week! Only 1 day now until the Grand Prix Final starts!! 🙂

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